Co-owners Tony Piraino, left, and Owen Burke have completely redone the space that was Marilyn's on Monroe. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Operated by two veteran club owners, the Firebird Tavern brings historic architecture, a carefully planned menu and a modern beer and cocktail list to the Greektown pre- and post-game party scene.
Owners Owen Burke and Tony Piraino spent nearly five months updating the building, built in the 1880s, that originally served as a saloon.
“It was a total renovation,” says Piraino of the space that most recently was Marilyn’s on Monroe. “The entire bar got completely redone. The floors are all brand new. The tin ceiling is original; we left it and cleaned and painted it. The equipment has been refurbished or new. All the wood work has been hand sanded and re-stained.”
Burke and Piraino know what they’re doing, too. The pair ran Pulse, a successful cocktail lounge at 156 Monroe from 2005 until December when the building was sold and they were forced to move.
“They wrote us a check to move, and we could’ve done anything with it,” says Piraino. “We chose to stay downtown. All the lofts filling up, the new business coming downtown ... it’s not just a couple of political guys talking about what’s coming here. It’s happening.”
After a soft opening in August, the Firebird is becoming known as a spot to hit before and after cheering on local teams. Lions fans have gathered there during Sunday home games; and last week, red and white jerseys were prevalent for the Red Wings’ home opener.
The mid-day crowd is slowly picking up, too, says Piraino. With a one-page menu of sandwiches, salads and appetizers, the offerings are diverse enough for lunch, happy hour snack or dinner.
Besides bar menu standards, the Firebird Tavern menu has poutine, a veggie burger, peanut butter and jelly crostini, and a sausage and ricotta spread, which is Burke’s grandmother’s recipe. Another house specialty, and a nod to the neighborhood, is the open-faced lamb sandwich dressed up like a gyro with onion tomato and tzatziki sauce.
Seating is easy for larger groups at long high-top tables; couples and singles can perch at the bar. The energy is high in the main bar area, where the Internet jukebox allows for patrons to choose the music. A few lower four-tops toward the back offer a more subdued atmosphere. The Firebird Tavern also has a second floor that can be rented out for special events.
Gabrielle Gomez of Brownstown Township visited the tavern for dinner for the first time last week with Jon Romero of Detroit. The 20-somethings saw it from the street and were curious so they came in.
“It’s got a chill vibe; I like it,” says Gomez. “It’s a cool place to hang out.”
Todd Raycraft and Jaimi Brown, who live in the area, already are regulars at the Firebird.
“It’s comfortable ... great service and great food,” says Raycraft, who recommends the soft pretzel and the sausage and ricotta spread for appetizers and the burger for an entree. “It’s to die for.”
419 Monroe, Detroit
: (313) 782-4189
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thurs.-Sat. Open Sundays only for home games and big events.
Prices: Appetizers $6.50-$9.50, salads $6.75-$7.75, entrees $8.50-$9.75, beer $4-$6.50, cocktails $7-$9, wines $8 per glass or $32-$36 bottle
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Classic and modern cocktails, also wine and champagne. The draft and bottled beer list has a mix of local and national craft labels, as well as domestic lawnmower beer (Bud, Miller, Stroh’s) and imports
Music: An Internet jukebox means patrons decide plays. Hip-hop, Top 40 and popular country are all likely on the playlist.
Noise level: Loud
Parking: Street or paid lots
Wheelchair access: No barriers on first floor; stairs required for second level.